The Ballymurphy Massacre campaign has taken a huge toll on the families involved. This blog has watched through countless meetings with Irish government Ministers and British Secretaries of State, and many others, family members of those killed recount time after time the heartbreak and trauma they have lived with every day for over 40 years.
It doesn’t get easier in the telling and it doesn’t get easier listening to. The wounds are raw. The emotional upset is deep and distressing. The tears are real and painful.
The decision of the north’s Attorney General to reopen 10 of the 11 Ballymurphy cases is a landmark judgement which gives hope back to those families that their long journey toward truth and justice may now succeed.
It also vindicates the importance of having policing and justice powers transferred from London to Belfast.
The Ballymurphy story begins 40 years ago in August 1971. Internment was introduced by the Unionist regime at Stormont with the backing of the British government. In the early hours of August 9th heavily armed British soldiers and RUC personnel invaded nationalist areas across the north and dragged hundreds of men away from their families.
In the Ballymurphy area the British Parachute Regiment was sent in. Their function was very clear – to use violence to pacify the local population.
The British state had already put in place legal and judicial measures to make it safe for British soldiers to arrest, beat, torture or kill citizens with impunity. In Ballymurphy this led to the killing of 11 local people over a three day period.
Few people can imagine the terror and the trauma that families in nationalist areas of the north endured on internment morning and in the days and weeks afterward.
Thousands of homes were raided and ransacked; some of those arrested were forced to run the gauntlet of British soldiers and were beaten unmercifully; and a small number were taken away and tortured. And in Ballymurphy 11 people, including a priest and a mother of eight children, were shot dead.
Fewer still can understand the horror which those 11 families suffered as they discovered that their loved ones had been shot and killed by British soldiers.
Or the torment and frustration and anger they experienced as the British state moved to ensure that the actions of their soldiers were covered-up and lies told about those who died.
The killings left 46 children without a parent. Many of these children were evacuated to this part of the island, mostly to military camps as refugees.
Briege Voyle and her sister were in Waterford when a RTE news bulletin on the television told them that their mummy had been buried that day.
Briege described it as being “like a nightmare. We couldn’t grasp it” she says; “We stayed with relatives but cried to go home. We imagined home would be like it always had been but it wasn’t. It was an empty shell without my mummy. We had already been through a terrible ordeal but it didn’t stop there. The paratroopers continued to torture us. They used to sing “where’s your mama gone” outside our door and you couldn’t walk down the street without them taunting you. We were all so terrified.”
None of the dead was involved with any armed group. They were all unarmed civilians.
The success by the British state in covering this up meant that Ballymurphy became a forgotten massacre.
Now, as adults, the children and the surviving siblings of those killed want the names of their loved ones cleared.
The Attorney General’s decision is an important step in the right direction. The new inquests must now be held without delay and the families must be provided with the necessary resources to ensure that all of the facts are uncovered.
This blog raised the Ballymurphy campaign in the Dáil on Tuesday. Jan O'Sullivan TD the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade with responsibility for Trade & Development gave a commitment on behalf of the Irish government to “assist” and “support” the Ballymurphy Massacre families “in their search for justice”. She also recommitted the Taoiseach to meet with the families.
This is welcome but the words must be followed by action by the government.
The families also believe that the role of the British state and of its armed forces warrants a full, thorough international investigation and an apology from the British government which recognises their innocence.
The names of those who were killed:
Fr Hugh Mullan (38); Frank Quinn (19), a father of two; Joan Connolly (50), a mother of eight; Daniel Teggert (44); a father of 13; Joseph Murphy (41), a father of 12; Noel Phillips (18); Eddie Doherty (28), a father of four; John Laverty (20); Joseph Corr (43), a father of six; John McKerr (49), a father of two; and Paddy McCarthy